5 Bollywood Actors Who Had Other Careers Before They Became Superstars

It’s not difficult to imagine people living the lavish life of the rich and famous as being from another world; unreachable, only to be appreciated from afar. And some of those celebrities become household names; you’ve heard of them, you’ve talked about them, you’ve seen them on the silver screen. You might’ve even wanted to be them.

They are still just people though, and all people begin somewhere. Even the mega-stars we’re used to hearing about on the news or on the radio were once nobodies. Today’s list is of five legendary actors of the silver screen – who had ordinary, humble beginnings.

1. Amitabh Bachchan

Mr. Bachchan, Big B, the Shahenshah of Bollywood; actor, singer, politician, and the face of the iconic show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, Amitabh Bachchan is a prolific in his work and varied in his talents, having done two hundred films to date, which have earned him several accolades, ranging from seventeen FilmFair awards to being crowned the ‘Star of the Millenium’ and ‘Shahensha of Bollywood’. His illustrious career, including such hits as ‘Sholay’, ‘Zanjeer’ and ‘Deewar’, started, funnily enough, not on stage at all, but as a voice actor. This wasn’t a coincidence though; he had originally tried to become a newsreader for All India Radio, but did not pass the audition. His first few films were flops, and it was only after age 30 that he started to pick up fame, when he was cast in ‘Zanjeer’ in 1973 (a movie that won four FilmFair awards, and was nominated for five more).

Until then though, he had to make ends meet - from around the early 60’s when he was rejected by All India Radio, and until 1969 when he was cast in Saat Hindustani, Mr. Bachchan worked as a broker in various shipping companies. He started with Bird and Co., and went on to work for Mackinnon Mackenzie, Shaw Wallace and Blacker & Co. Shaw Wallace is in liquor manufacturing, not shipping, but then we know Mr. Bachchan has always been versatile.

2. Dilip Kumar

Dileep Kumar did over sixty-five films over his career, in many of which he played singularly serious roles, earning himself the moniker of the ‘Tragedy King’ of Bollywood. He was one of the first actors on the scene to practice ‘method’ acting, a technique he employed in many blockbusters such as ‘Devdas’, ‘Andaz’, and, most notoriously, ‘Mughal-e-Azam'. He was born in what is currently Pakistan, but at the time was pre-independence British India, but he has been celebrated on both sides of the border with equal enthusiasm since the partition, with Indian awarding him the Padma Vibhushan in 2015, among other awards, and Pakistan awarding him the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (the highest civilian award available in Pakistan) in 1998.

Mr. Kumar (who still went by his birth name of ‘Mohammad Yusuf Khan’ at the time) was born into a family of fruit merchants; though he grew up in the same neighbourhood as Raj Kapoor, acting wasn’t what he had in mind until at least the early 40’s. He moved to Pune in 1940 to set up his own dry-fruit shop and a canteen. It wasn’t until 1944 that he made his theatre debut, in ‘Jwar Bhata’ and even then, it wasn’t very successful. The film that would put him on the map (‘Jugnu’) didn’t happen until 1947. The very reason he worked under a stage name in the first place was because his father disapproved of a career in acting. It was only because of a chance encounter he had with Devika Rani of Bombay Talkies at his canteen that he got into acing at all.

3. Rajnikanth

Rajnikanth, who started his life as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, is one of the first big names to bridge the divide between ‘Indian’ and ‘South Indian’ film. He is primarily known for his Tamil works, for which he won a FilmFair award, four Tamil Nadu State Best Actor awards, a Padma Bhushan, and a Padma Vibhushan. He worked a lot of different jobs on the way to stardom though, his first one being as a coolie, and his second with the Bangalore Transport Service as a bus conductor. He had a love for acting even then though, and started acting in plays while he was still in high-school.

It wasn’t until much later, in 1975, that he started working in films. He enrolled in the Madras Film Institute to formally study theatre, a decision his family did not support – and at that time, it was the friends he had made as a bus conductor, most of whom were conductors themselves at the time, who supported him, many of whom are his friends to this day. It was during this time that he was advised to learn Tamil, a skill which would eventually launch his career in the biggest way; particularly his ‘villain’ roles at the start of his career, ‘Baashha’ especially. which are what really elevated him to, as the Indian Express said, ‘God-like’ status.

4. Raaj Kumar

Raaj Kumar, who was called Kulbhushan Pandit until he made his debut on the big screen, was an icon of Indian cinema. Among the over seventy movies he was in, his film ‘Mother India’ was nominated for an Oscar, making waves even outside India. In a time before ‘Bollywood’ as such had been established, Raaj Kumar was one of the most famous and influential actors on the block. Some might even say he was part of the crowd that established Bollywood in the first place, particularly with his roles in such classics as ‘HeerRaanjha’, ‘Pakeezah’, and ‘Dil Ek mandir’, for which he won the FilmFair award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ in 1963.

Mr. Kumar wasn’t always an actor though; he started out as Sub-Inspector for the Mumbai Police in the early 40’s and only changed paths in 1952, when he was hired for his role in ‘Rangili’. He went on to create a reputation for himself that might be difficult to align with the idea of him as stern city police officer; he was called the ‘King of Dialogue Delivery’, and was known for his nuanced performances and debonair persona.

5. Dev Anand

Dev anand in 'Ek Daur', 1960

Dev Anand had one of the longest and most successful careers in Indian film history, with a resume that included not only acting, but also directing, and producing, over the course of sixty years, giving us timeless classics like ‘Guide’ and ‘Kala Pani’. He was uncommonly good-looking to boot; in fact, he was so good-looking that he was actually banned from wearing black coats by the Bombay High Court, because he was so attractive in them (as evidenced by his role in ‘Ek Daur’ in 1960), that women would fling themselves off buildings just to catch a glimpse of him.

But, acting wasn’t always his ambition. He was always interested in drama and theatre though, and did his bachelor’s in English Literature. Career wise, however, he started out as a clerk – first at the military censor’s office in Churchgate, and then at an accounting firm, starting from the early 40’s.

He joined his brother at the ‘Indian People’s Theatre Association’, which is what got eventually brought him into the world of film, but he didn’t make it to the big leaues until 1946, when he was cast in the lead role in ‘Hum Ek Hain’, and even then, only had his big break in 1948 with Bombay Talkie’s ‘Ziddi’.


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Written by Sambhavi Sinha, Content Writer, Skyshot Media.